Let the Fur Fly: Choosing the best family pet

Author of “Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children,” Gail Melson, PhD, states that nearly 40% of kids enjoy their early childhood with domestic animals, and nine out of ten kids go through their young years with a pet.

Most families love having a dog around, and for good reason! Beyond the daily walks, little puddles in the kitchen, house-breaking, midnight snacks and visits to the vet, dogs teach families a great deal about caring and affection.

Adding a dog to the family is big decision — it’s life-changing! A dog will take up a lot of your time, attention and patience. Think long-term — think 13 or 14 years. Is your family prepared for a furry four-legged new member? Or will a pet hamster have to do for now?

“WE WANT ONE, BUT ARE WE READY?”

What do you see when you envision life with a dog? Lazy walks in the park? Fun games of fetch? Lots of snuggles? That’s only one side of the picture. Consider vet vaccination bills, regular checkups, obedience classes, house-training, chewed-on shoes, funky-smelling carpet and barking all night. This isn’t supposed to discourage you, but it’s meant to open your eyes to reality.

Budget: Over the last 10 years, more than $500 billion have been spent on pet food, toys and other commodities in the United States, says the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, making the candy and toy businesses look like wimps.

Babies and children: Dogs and babies compete for attention and affection. If you have a baby in the house, it’s a good idea to hold off on the idea of a dog for a while. If your kids are old enough to understand, have a serious family discussion about everyone’s expectations when the dog arrives. Young kids will get excited, but that doesn’t mean they will help out. If you aren’t sure, or you’d like to teach kids a little responsibility, start off with a less critical pet, such as a goldfish.

Home and basic needs: Is your home conducive to a dog’s life? The bigger the dog, the bigger your home should be. You will need to understand a dog’s diet, especially special ones for puppies, sick dogs, or ones with allergies. Will you be able to provide a crate, a mat or a bed? You will need to fix gates in some parts of the house where the dog can’t enter. You will need a supply of fresh, clean water for Fido all the time.

Cleaning up and training: Expect accidents for the first few weeks. Arm yourself with scrubbers, mops and carpet cleaners, not to mention patience. Pick up some deodorizer and training pads, too. If you are clueless about how to train your dog, consider enrolling in a puppy behavioral class.

Health and grooming: Dogs aren’t little human beings. They need special dental care, vaccines and checkups. You can’t diagnose a dog unless you’re a vet. It’s a great idea to get a comb, shaver, clippers and a tub for washing up, but if your dog has a sculpted coat, professional grooming is better.

Time and companionship: Dogs run away from home because they felt neglected or bored. If you want your dog to be your family’s best friend, you have to act like its best friend. Keep the dog secure and protected, especially when you’re away from home. Being consistent is essential when training your dog, but showing compassion and forgiveness is equally important. Being attentive and giving Fido time is crucial to making the dog feel like part of the family.

“WHICH DOG IS BEST FOR MY FAMILY?”

Vet expert Dr. Wojtek Wybranowski recommends these top five dog breeds for families that have kids:

Golden Retriever or Labrador Retriever: This breed is the top one on the list of favorite family dogs. Sure, they’re a lot bigger than the cuddly toy dogs, and they belong to the sporting breeds, but they are fun-loving, active and playful from their puppy years up to their adult dog years. Retrievers are gentle despite their size, and they are known for their loyal characteristics. If you have small kids in the family, these dogs are resilient to poking, pulling and prodding — they will play back, but fight back. They are very protective.

Retrievers are active, so you will need to engage in a lot of vigorous play. You will also need to brush their fur daily because they tend to shed. Pups can be brought home earlier than 8 weeks, and the dogs can live up to 12 years. Retrievers are loved for their low maintenance.

woman running with dog

Collie: Who didn’t fall in love with Lassie? The Collie makes for a popular pet because of its energy, silky coat, good-natured aura and its warmth towards kids. It is considered a herding breed, but is pretty much versatile. A challenge for Collie owners is keeping up with its active lifestyle. A daily walk in the park may not suffice for this dog — it likes to jump, climb and hike. If you’re a runner, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take your Collie on your daily run with you. Its thick coat needs constant brushing. If you live in the city, make sure there’s a lot of open space for your Collie to play around in.

Yorkshire Terrier: If you have a small family, or very young kids, you can consider a toy breed, such as a Yorkie. It is in fact one of the most popular toy breed dogs because of its fierce loyalty, high spirits, and despite its size, it does make an awesome watchdog. A Yorkie in the family makes it easier to get additional pets later on, because of its friendly nature. It gets along well with other animals, even cats.

To keep its coat shiny and smooth, regular shampooing, combing, brushing and trimming are a must. They are versatile and can adapt well to city life as well as rural. They don’t always have to go out, as they get the exercise they require by playing around indoors.

Boxer: Boxers belong to the working dog breeds, but they make wonderful pets because of their up-for-anything attitude and playfulness. Boxers guard well. They are true companions and their affectionate nature makes it easy for the family to fall in love with their goofiness. A boxer’s body is athletic. It has a square head, muscular frame and short coat, but don’t let this fool you. A boxer can be a clown, both mischievous and funny.

Since its coat is short, it is low maintenance. Take it to the park often for fun and games.

Miniature Schnauzer: These dogs have bigger versions (giant and standard), but the miniature one is perfect for a family. It really is a terrier, and is a terrific pet because of its reliability and affectionate nature. They are great watchers and like to play, but they are very stubborn.

When you look closely, the Mini Schnauzer’s fur isn’t really so — it is hair. The greatest benefit this gives is that it’s hypoallergenic and does not shed, perfect for families with the sneezies. They can live in apartments but are easy to become overweight if not enough exercise is given.

Maybe the time is right for your family to get that four-legged friend you’ve been wanting for so long. Just remember the tips above and be ready for any surprises that may come along with the new addition to your family!